Making your way through the vast maze of vendors and stalls in La Cancha, the largest open-air market in the Americas, you are in the heart of Bolivian culture. Vibrant colors surround: brightly colored fruits and vegetables, a myriad of fabrics and clothing, unique handcrafts, and a rich assortment of additional Bolivian commodities. Lively crowds of local people can be seen in every direction, as the bustle of conversation in Quechua fills the atmosphere of the market. La Cancha is a locale for one to witness interactions among the Bolivian people, as they barter, trade, buy, and sell multitudes of products. It is here where many Bolivian people produce their livelihoods. When Amizade volunteers submerge themselves into this immense marketplace during programs in Bolivia, they are able to experience the colors, interactions, and liveliness of La Cancha, thus gaining a more profound understanding of Bolivian culture and people.
La Cancha is located in the city of Cochabamba, the fourth largest city in Bolivia with an urban population of around 608,000 people. The marketplace covers a 15-block area of the city, where merchants and vendors come from all around to buy and sell goods during ferias (market days), which take place every Wednesday and Friday. Each section of the marketplace is designated for particular products, such as agricultural produce, meat, fish, fabrics, and clothing. Some vendors in the market are permanent vendors, who operate a steady stand that they rent from the city. Others are mobile vendors, who travel to La Cancha and set up temporary stands on market days. All of the vendors function in the informal sector of the Bolivian economy. Though they are operating in the informal economy, many of these vendors rely on La Cancha as a vital method for producing their livelihoods. During programs in Bolivia, Amizade volunteers get to wind through the pathways of La Cancha and observe firsthand how the informal economy of Bolivia functions. Volunteers have the opportunity to purchase fresh produce, barter for authentic handmade fabrics and crafts, and interact with the local Bolivian people, thus becoming a part of the marketplace itself.
In the Quechua language, La Cancha means “walled enclosure”, which is an ironic name when considering the actual setting of the marketplace. When a person weaves in and out of the labyrinth of vendors within La Cancha, they hardly feel walled or enclosed. Instead, one gets to experience the open air, the smell of fresh meats and produce, the radiating colors, and the vibrant bustle of crowds. They get to enter and leave the vast variety of vendors as they please. Visiting the marketplace of La Cancha is an extraordinary cultural and educational experience for Amizade volunteers, allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of the livelihoods, interactions, and culture of the Bolivian people. This is a significant aspect of the well-rounded Amizade program, balancing meaningful service with cultural learning in Bolivia.
For more information about volunteering with Amizade in Bolivia visit: Cochabama, Bolivia.